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By Andrew Maitland
January 30, 2004


Forget 'Top-3' As Renault Launch R24
Forget the traditional 'top-three' Formula One teams, according to Renault.

With the launch of the R24 at an opera-theatre in Sicily on Thursday, the world of GP-racing had better start getting used to the notion of the 'Big Four.'

That's according to chairman and CEO of Renault, Patrick Faure: 'We must look to dislodge at least one of the teams above us in the championship [in 2004].'

The Frenchman said better reliability with the new car, to be driven by young-winner Fernando Alonso and Jarno Trulli, will be 'critical' to the next-step.

'I enter this new season feeling confident,' added team principal Flavio Briatore. 'I certainly don't think we have yet attained our maximum.'

R24, an evolution of the 2003 Renault car, has been conceived by Mark Smith, under the guidance of newly-promoted technical director Bob Bell.

Team sources in Palermo insisted that despite regulation changes including to the aero make-up and engine, the car is already faster than its predecessor.

Renault also announced new official-supplier deals at the launch with JOBS and DMG (machining), Eutelsat (communications) and OZ Racing (wheel-rims).








Renault To Stretch Dollars On-Track
Renault intends to stretch every-dollar on the F1 test-tracks during 2004.

Engineering chief Pat Symonds insists that despite the new FIA-ruling allowing a maximum total of 48 test-days, Enstone-based Renault will use only thirty-six.

Last year, Renault made significant progress as part of the troupe of teams who completed just 20-days of test-development under the 'Heathrow' provisions.

'Last year taught us to get the best value for money for our time on track,' said Symonds. 'Why waste the budget if we can use this money better elsewhere?'

Managing director Flavio Briatore says Renault will challenge for the 2004 world championships with traditional 'top-three' teams Ferrari, Williams and McLaren.








Pizzonia Sets New Lap Record
Antonio Pizzonia rubbed his doomsayers' noses in it on Thursday by smashing the old lap record at the twisty Valencia track at the wheel of a BMW-Williams.

The Brazilian was dumped by Jaguar Racing last season but he is about to conclude a full-time testing return to the top-team after 2-days in the cockpit.

His time was nearly two-tenths faster than Juan Pablo Montoya's in the impressive new FW26, despite driving the older-specification BMW-powered FW25.

'It's not bad,' Pizzonia smiled as he talked to the Speed Channel.








Ralf Cancels Test With Stomach-Pains
German GP-winner Ralf Schumacher pulled out of Thursday's big-test at the Ricardo Tormo circuit in Valencia when he experienced intense abdominal pains.

The 28-year-old headed home and was taken to nearby Salzburg Hospital (in Austria) for a precautionary examination, but was later given the all-clear.

Team sources reported that Schumacher, with a later-confirmed problem in his lower-stomach, will definitely return to the FW26's cockpit next week.

'He's been given something for it,' said a Williams spokesman at the twisty track on a sunny day, 'and he will be in the car again in Barcelona on Monday.'

Despite the pain, Schumacher took the time to laud the new Williams car.

'It felt great yesterday,' said Ralf, 'as demonstrated by the lap record, and I thoroughly enjoyed driving it. Unfortunately I could not drive today.'

Test-driver Marc Gene, on Thursday, put another race-distance on the FW26.

'From the engine perspective (on Thursday),' said BMW boss Mario Theissen, 'we primarily concentrated on practise starts and traction control set-ups.'








Teams Conclude Busy Valencia Test
Williams test-returnee Antonio Pizzonia set about restoring his blemished F1-reputation this week - and what better way than with a new circuit record?

Furthermore, at the Ricardo Tormo track in sunny Spain, he fended off a scarlet-challenge from reigning world champion Michael Schumacher on Thursday.

Giancarlo Fisichella completed 76 laps in the new Sauber C23 contender, also on Bridgestones, as he tried out different front and rear tire constructions.

'We're satisfied with what we've done these days,' said engineer Jacky Eeckelaert. 'The car is still new to us, as are several new Sauber members.'

Jaguar continued to concern onlookers with the sluggish R5, this time with Christian Klien at the wheel, as did Cristiano da Matta in the new Toyota.








Schu Set To Roll-Out New Ferrari
Michael Schumacher's new Ferrari will debut at Fiorano on Friday.

The German himself will take the wheel of the evolutionary-looking car after completing a few more days in the older-spec F2003-GA contender in sunny Spain.

Schumacher denied that testing the 'old' car was a waste of time.

He told the Speed Channel: 'If you had conceptual differences between the two cars it could cause a problem, but our new car is quite close to this one.'

The first day in F2004 at Ferrari's private circuit in northern Italy will be spent checking that all systems work in what is known as a 'shake-down' test.

Team tester Luca Badoer is also set to steer an F2003-GA at Fiorano.








Zsolt Happy After Century Of Laps
Minardi's new Hungarian recruit Zsolt Baumgartner put a troubling-debut behind him to power no less than 105 laps at the Valencia circuit on Thursday.

The 23-year-old, from Budapest, completed a program working on new parts for the unfinished PS04 racer as well as a short tire-test for partner Bridgestone.

'I'm very happy,' said Zsolt, who drove two races for Jordan last season, 'because after a busy day of work, I don't feel particularly tired.'

The only problem he experienced, apart from a small and harmless spin in the long morning session, was in his driving-position in the interim-car.

'Yesterday, I felt I was comfortable,' he said, 'but after a few laps I realized I was not quite at ease and that I need to adjust my seating position.'

Considering he hasn't driven an F1 car for almost five months, Baumgartner reckons he did 'quite a good job' in the Cosworth-powered cockpit.

Team boss Paul Stoddart passed on his thanks to Zsolt.

'He was in a car he hasn't driven before,' said the Australian, 'at an unfamiliar circuit, and with a new team, and yet he settled in quickly.'

Minardi's next test will take place at Misano (Italy) between February 9 and 11.








Renault Find Ten-Percent With R24
Jarno Trulli told his F1 team's engine chief before recently trying the new Renault R24 for the first time that he expected to find lower-performance.

New-regulations for 2004 require that a V10-unit last the whole race-weekend; and, furthermore, Renault has churned-out a totally new engine architecture.

At the official launch of R24, engine chief Denis Chevrier said of the more-conventional 72-degree design: 'The potential is there. That has reassured us.'

Driver Fernando Alonso confirmed that the RS24 engine 'has more torque.

'It's also more powerful, but not as aggressive as the old one. This smoothness makes it easier on the corner exit. The (2003-spec) R23 is already forgotten.'

On the car-side, chassis-R24 has a taller engine-cover and an innovative rear-wing design to combat new regulations demanding no more than two elements.

'In theory, this configuration brings with it a loss of aerodynamic efficiency close to six per cent,' said Bob Bell, who replaces the defected Mike Gascoyne.

He added, 'However, hard work in the wind-tunnel has allowed us to overcome this deficit - the R24 already has more downforce than the R23B.'

R24 is lighter than R23, has a smaller fuel-tank and shorter wheelbase, and an all-titanium six-speed gearbox, to replace the older titanium-carbon unit.








Money Reflects Success For F1 Team
Money reflects success, according to Formula One team Renault.

Since the final race of last season, the Enstone-based team has concluded new deals with a total of seven partners and official suppliers.

I-mode and Guru are on the newly-launched R24's livery, while five more companies have been added to the suppliers-list ahead of season 2004.

'Our commercial situation reflects our results,' said Flavio Briatore.

The team boss added: 'In 3-years, we have gone from the back of the grid to the top step of the podium, and this progress hasn't gone unnoticed by sponsors.'







BAR Look Ahead To New-Car Launch
British-based F1 team BAR will launch its new racer this Sunday.

All three drivers, including racers Jenson Button and Takuma Sato and full-time tester Anthony Davidson, worked at the wheel of two interim-cars this week.

'We had a bit of a problem [on Thursday],' said Button, 'but other than that we've had a good test, not just working on reliability but also performance.'

The trio clocked up more than 500 laps at the twisty Valencia circuit in Spain, a significant 2050kms of work on the rear-end components for the new 006 car.

However, BAR's two all-black concept-cars experienced a number of small faults and two more engine failures on Honda's new-for-2004 Formula One powerplant.

'On the first morning I had a problem,' said Sato, 'and then yesterday I had an engine problem. But I'm pleased that we've obtained some useful data.'

Honda's engineering director Shuhei Nakamoto downplayed the seriousness of the V10 failures by insisting that they occurred near the end of the engines' lives.

'We're confident we've identified the causes,' said the Japanese.








'Early Days' For Middling New Toyota
It's still early-days for Toyota's new Formula One car.

But early indications on the pre-season test tracks indicate that all is not well in the red-and-white garage as TF104 continually fails to impress.

Driving veteran Olivier Panis spent two days at the wheel in Valencia.

'We found good improvements with the Michelin tires,' said the Frenchman. 'We have to continue to work in this way in the remaining tests before Australia.'

Brazilian team-mate Cristiano da Matta was given just one more day to work on the newly-launched TF104 on Thursday and said he came across 'varied' fortunes.

'It's proving to be extremely reliable,' said the former CART champion.

But asked about performance, da Matta continued: 'We know the areas on which we need to do more work. But we are ready to do just that.'








F1 Teams Set For $10m Budget-Boost
Cash-strapped Formula One teams are in for some good news.

Renault F1 chairman Patrick Faure revealed at the R24's launch in Sicily that each GP-outfit should soon benefit to the tune of $10 million-extra a year.

He said the windfall would be available when F1 stakeholders reach a 'definitive agreement' for the future of the sport regarding a new Concorde Agreement.

Faure said in a statement: 'We will be able to count on an immediate initial benefit, from 2004. All teams will receive a budgetary-boost of around $10m.'

The touted GPWC-teams, F1-owning banks and F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone signed a 'memorandum of understanding' last month on the future-direction of their sport.

Currently, according to Reuters, teams receive only 23 percent of total revenues earned - it should rise to nearly double-that under the terms of a new deal.

'A better distribution of earnings and new sponsors are signs that F1 is moving in the right direction,' Patrick Faure continued to say in his statement.

He said cutting costs by reducing testing would be the next priority.








Renault's New Car Feeds The Masses
Renault's new Formula One car fed the masses in Sicily on Thursday.

Team principal Flavio Briatore ordered team driver Fernando Alonso into the sparkling-new R24 to complete a series of 'doughnuts' on the streets.

The gesture backfired when the young Spaniard stalled the engine.

In horror, Fernando clambered from the cockpit as the feeding began - hundreds of 'fans' ripping and pulling in a bid to win their very own aero-souvenir.

According to The Telegraph newspaper, Briatore hid under the arm of a policeman as his team mechanics tried their best to protect the car from the hordes.

'Sometimes we are too technical. We need the support of the people,' Briatore said before asking Alonso to take the R24 to the crowds in Palermo.

He added, before the incident: 'Bernie is looking at this and hoping to do something that will take the drivers closer to the general public.'








Judge Didn't Like Eddie Jordan
According to Eddie Jordan, he lost a now-notorious court-case with Vodafone last season partly because Judge Justice Langley didn't particularly like him.

'I should have realized from the beginning,' the Irishman told The Telegraph.

Jordan reckoned that Vodafone, who later pledged their millions to Ferrari, promised to sponsor his team by saying on the telephone 'You've got the deal'.

Langley said EJ's claims were blatantly 'false'.

'So I lost in court,' said Eddie. 'Someone has to. I didn't think we could lose the case until it got too late.

'I had a feeling I wasn't getting through to him (the judge).'

A contingency-fund paid-out the patent financial losses of the action; but that wasn't the worst aspect of the failed Vodafone-saga, according to Jordan.

He reckons Langley's remarks were 'unfair and unnecessary.'

'I've never put in so many hours. There's a little bit of pride in that and a feeling of wanting to prove people wrong. Jordan are not in trouble.'

But one thing is for sure - court is off EJ's agenda for a little while.

He told The Telegraph: 'If there's anyone who wants to sue me, I give in straight away. Just ask me how much. Only joking ...'








A1 Won't Compete With F1: New Series
A new winter-series of open-wheeler motor racing to be based in the Middle East has not been designed to compete with Formula One, according to its boss.

Run by Sheikh Maktoum Hasher Maktoum Al Maktoum, 'A1' will kick-off in September next year and race throughout Arabia, Reuters is reporting.

But Al Maktoum reckons 'A' also stands for Asia, Africa and Australia.

'They are all venues where street racing has been very limited,' he said.

'A lot of these countries cannot afford F1 and this is an alternative at a time of year when F1 is not racing. I found a vacuum in the motor sport world.'

A1, to offer up to two million dollars in prize-money for competing teams, will be powered by 3.5 liter Langford engines and cars built in Britain by Lola.

The series is yet to get the backing of the motor sport authority FIA.








Bridgestone Leading F1 Tire-War?
Don't believe the hype - Bridgestone isn't doing as bad on the winter test-tracks as many post-session reports will have you believe.

That's the vehement message of the Japanese tire-manufacturer which, according to widespread analysis, is struggling to keep up with rivals Michelin.

'We have tested many different constructions and shapes and are very pleased with the progress made so far,' said head of development Hirohide Hamashima.

He reckons Valencia, where Williams' Michelin-shod Antonio Pizzonia yesterday set a new track-record, has not always been a good circuit for Bridgestone.

'But our results indicate we may have changed that,' Hamashima maintained. 'We've been looking really quite competitive.'

While lap-charts suggest otherwise, Hamashima says based on average times, Bridgestone is about one to one-and-a-half seconds quicker than Michelin rivals.

Ferrari and Sauber now head to Circuit de Catalunya (Barcelona) while Bridgestone-shod Jordan continue their program at Silverstone in February.








R24 Is 'Best Car' Of Symonds' Career
Pat Symonds reckons the newly-launched R24 is the 'best car' of his career.

Renault's engineering chief added in Palermo, Sicily - scene of the car-launch - that never-before has he seen such a 'well designed' Formula One racer.

'Our sights are set high,' he said, referring to the team's assertion to dislodge a top-three rival in 2004, 'but we have the means to achieve them.'

Jarno Trulli, the first driver to steer R24 out on-track, had to be politely asked by a mechanic to stop staring so as he could be strapped-into the car.

'I just stood in the garage for a long time admiring it,' said the Italian.

He added, 'I felt confident in the car from the first few hundred meters. I generally wait a bit before judging, but I am very optimistic for 2004.'






Alonso Not Looking At Other Teams
Formula One's youngest-ever winner, Fernando Alonso, is happy at Renault.

The Spaniard is one of the sport's brightest new names but he won't be lured to another top-team, like Ferrari, before he can at least have a shot at the title.

'I have a long-term relationship with this team and right now, there is nothing that would make me want to look elsewhere,' said the 22-year-old.

At the launch of a sleek-new R24 racer in Sicily on Thursday, Alonso likened Renault, where he acted as test-driver in 2002, to his extended 'family.'

He added, 'We are at the beginning of a fantastic experience and I can't wait for the rewards of the hard work.

'We want to be fighting for the title in 2005.'

But Alonso is also willing to admit that he's not the finished-article.

'Sometimes I tend to compensate for a problem on the car by adapting how I drive,' said the youngster, who was born in the small-town of Ovierdo.

'I perhaps need to learn how to be more sensitive to what the car is doing.'








Ferrari Prepare For The Future
If Ferrari's chief designer Rory Byrne decided to re-enter retirement any time soon, the scarlet team could not simply look around the paddock for another.

'I don't see anyone who could replace him directly,' admitted technical director of the Maranello-based squad, Ross Brawn.

The Ferrari-team seen today - comprising names like Brawn, Byrne, Jean Todt, Paulo Martinelli and Michael Schumacher - is under contract only to season 2006.

So there's some serious thinking-about-the-future going on in Italy.

For the past few years, Ferrari has been developing key-members of the staff so that they may one day become the Rory Byrnes or Ross Brawns of the future.

Luca Baldisseri has been promoted and will in 2004 help Brawn with strategy.

'A good example,' said Brawn.

'I think last year we didn't have enough support for the race-engineering and we weren't optimizing the car as often as I would like.'

Aldo Costa, who'll take more responsibility in the design of the next Ferrari challenger, is another example, according to Brawn.

'He's a very good design engineer,' he said, 'and in the next few years we want to see him take more responsibility because one day all of us will stop.'








New Engine To Start With Less Power: Renault
Flavio Briatore has told Renault's world-wide Formula One fans not to panic if team driver Fernando Alonso lines-up a bit further down the grid at Albert Park.

The Renault chief said his team's new RS24 engine, which boasts a whole-new concept and architecture, is likely to start season-2004 a little down on power.

'The most important thing for us is to have fewer technical problems than in 2003,' the Italian continued. 'The basis of the R24 is less risky.'

Briatore admitted that the first-three races with the 72-degree design, as opposed to the RS23's wide-angled architecture, might be difficult.

He added: 'But from the second half of the championship onwards, the engine will be much more powerful.'

Technical director on the engine, Rob White, reinforced Briatore's view that Alonso and team-mate Jarno Trulli will start the season with 'reasonable' power.

'We intend to make progress there,' he said, 'and also in terms of weight.'








Montoya To Tackle Title With FW26
BMW-Williams' Juan Pablo Montoya was hardly even trying when he smashed the (now surpassed by a team-mate) track-record at Valencia earlier this week.

The Colombian said the new FW26's performance is therefore 'very satisfying.'

'We are only at the beginning of development, but I can already say that with the 26, we'll be able to fight for the championship,' he told the Italian press.

This time last season, Williams were struggling for pace - particularly on the aerodynamic-side of things - and that melee continued into the first races.

'The situation now is hugely different,' Montoya explained.

He said the new Williams, which reacts well to different set-ups, is 'excellent' and has given him confidence to be competitive in his final year at the team.

Montoya also refers to the strong pace of main rivals McLaren and Ferrari.

'It'll be interesting,' said the racer who'll steer a silver-car in 2005.

He concluded: 'Even with Renault and their improvements. It'll be a hard-fought championship with many players, and that is nice for the fans too.'








I'm Ready To Win In F1: Jarno Trulli
Jarno Trulli believes he is 'ready' to win grands prix in Formula One.

The Italian, team-mate to the hard-charging youngster Fernando Alonso, had to watch the Spaniard become F1's youngest-ever winner in Hungary last season.

Trulli says he'll be on-track, and smiling, in 2004 with the new R24.

'I will give everything but always smile and be quiet,' said the 29-year-old in Sicily. 'Because I know it will eventually come to me.'

Jarno says he has the 'talent' and now a car worthy of powering him to the top.

'I am ready to claim my first pole position and my first victory,' added the racer who is often criticized for 'going to sleep' in the second-half of GPs.

And despite claims that he and Fernando will have to wait for Renault to get a new V10-engine up to speed, Trulli reckons the R24 will be quick everywhere.

He said: 'I hope that means from Australia through to the last race. We want to try to get several podium finishes this year.'








EJ: I Can Afford To Be Fussy
F1 principal Eddie Jordan has rejected claims that he deterred several potential team buy-out deals from proceeding on a purely selfish basis.

Some reports insisted that EJ scuppered deals with Red Bull's Dieter Mateschitz, former BAR chief Craig Pollock and Honda because he wanted to stay in charge.

'I'm interested in a partner who can bring added value and performance,' the Irishman told The Telegraph in an interview published on Thursday.

'There's no-one who has come to me with a financial package that makes it better for Jordan Grand Prix. Leave Eddie Jordan out of it. He'll never starve.'

Jordan admitted that he had read a media feature published earlier this week that claimed his cash-strapped team would be better off without him at the helm.

Former driver John Watson explained that his colorful countryman would be a sad loss to Formula One, 'but the loss of the team would be even sadder.'

Jordan, meanwhile, maintains that because his personal future is secure, he can afford to be fussy in analysis of what an equity buy-out delivers to Jordan GP.

'Money is no longer an issue to me,' he concluded. 'I've made some money out of this business. Good money. The team is the important thing.'

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